Liberal Conservatism and The Plight of the Lonely

there are so many people who never have a sense of communal exhilaration

according to a recent survey a sense of social isolation is the number one problem of our lives

we need to start actively re-knitting the coalition of British society

Dear oh dear, it’s just as well I never said anything rude about the Lib Dems, eh? What? Did I say that? You mean I once accused them of being a bunch of euro-loving road-hump-fetishists who changed their opinions in mid-stream like so many hermaphroditic parrotfish? And are you telling me that senior Lib Dem sources are accusing me of being a Eurosceptic classics crank? Dear oh dear.

Well, I am sure we can put it all behind us, because there was something about the amazing events of last week that has filled the nation – me included – with a giddy helium-lunged feeling of hope. We looked at that scene in the Downing Street garden – the dappled sunlight, the blossom floating past – and we saw an extraordinary partnership being forged. They were David and Jonathan. They were Achilles and Patroclus. They were Gilbert and George. They were Wallace and Gromit. And you know what, I truly believe it can work, must work, will work.

Of course, there will be strains, and the media will try to pull it apart, but over the next few weeks and months the two parties will discover that there is real content to the idea of liberal conservatism, wherever you put the capital letters, and that there is much more that unites them than they ever dreamt possible.

That process will involve overcoming embarrassment and mistrust, and I hope that the new Government will focus on those very sensations – of unexpectedly dealing with new people. I have a project for the great new centre-Right, centre-Left coalition that we have elected. I have a plan to give meaning to the Big Society. As the Liberals and the Conservatives put aside their mutual antipathy, it is time for the Government to tackle the atomism and the loneliness – and the consequent unhappiness – that increasingly blights our society.

On Saturday I went to watch the Cup Final at Wembley (I know, I know, it’s a tough old life) and came away amazed at the vast tribal power of the event. You look out at this colossal cauldron of more than 88,000 flag-waving fans and you hear the deafening chants of human beings divided in their loyalties but united in their excitement and their sense of common purpose. And as they spill from the exits at the end of the match, you can see the tired but satisfied look – even on the faces of the Portsmouth fans – of people who have been through something together.

My point is that there are so many people, in London and across the country, who never have that sense of communal exhilaration. They don’t have the confidence to go and be jostled by the crowds. They don’t go to concerts in the park. They pretty much stay at home and watch TV, and they tend to be older people.

It was back in 1966 that Paul McCartney wrote his wonderful elegy for Eleanor Rigby, who picked up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lived in a dream. Then she died in a church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came.

And, of course, the Beatles were right to note the fate of lonely people in 1966 – but look at them now. The number of people living on their own has doubled since the 1970s, and most of them are older people.

According to a recent survey by the Joseph Rowntree trust, a sense of social isolation is the number one problem of our lives, with only six out of 10 people trusting their neighbours – down from eight out of 10 in 2003. These older people do not always use the new internet social networks. They are not on Facebook. They may not even have mobile phones.

Every week I read reports of real-life Eleanor Rigbys, people who die alone in care homes after two years without a single visitor, or people whose death only becomes apparent when a funny smell starts to come from the flat or the mail can no longer fit through the door.

And it is not just older people who are lonely these days. Since 2002, there have been more people living on their own, of all ages, than living with another adult human being. There is Bridget Jones, worried that she is going to turn into Eleanor Rigby or – as she famously prophesied – that she would die alone and be eaten by cats.

As I write these words I am conscious that many people will read them with irritation and say they are very happy living on their own, thanks, and the last thing they want is the petty jealousies and bickering of family life. They will say that they like their routine and their independence and not having to worry about whether someone else wants to watch a different TV channel. To all such people, I naturally apologise, and I simply wonder about the rest.

Can it really be good for us that nearly half the meals in Britain are now eaten alone? Is it a good thing that nearly half the ready meals in Europe are consumed in the UK? I think not, and that is why we in London are supporting the Big Lunch – led by Rosie Boycott and Tim Smit – to get people out of their homes and to share a huge communal and inter-generational street event on July 18.

I think we should go further, and I hope local councils will consider the idea of a Fete Week, or Fete Weekends, when we do everything to clear away the petty restrictions and the form-filling, and throw the streets open for people to organise stalls and events – from tombolas to whacking the rat – to raise money for good causes and to meet
each other.

Of course, it will all be fraught with potential embarrassment. We all have an instinctive British horror of forced jollity and a suspicion of people pretending to like us slightly more than they really do. But we need to start actively re-knitting the coalition of British society – and it can’t be any more embarrassing than asking a Lib Dem to cosy up to a Tory.

You can read more on this column and associated news in The Daily Telegraph today

20 thoughts on “Liberal Conservatism and The Plight of the Lonely”

  1. I blame Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and all those other miserable ‘intellectual’ gits who re-invented selfishness as the highest human ideal.

  2. It is my greatest wish that this joining of parties will lift the gloom of the past and lead us to a brighter future.
    What we need is the media to back off and let them do the job without every little item being scruitnised or compared to the past.
    They have 5 years to get it right. Labour had 13 yeras to destroy it and hid a posion chalace in the cuboard which has just fell out.
    Good Luck to all in this most difficult job.
    So lets stop all the diatribe and move onto how we the public can pull togther to make Britain Great once more.

  3. Why can’t BA customers sue Unite if their flights are cancelled due to the union’s strike?
    I keep hearing about the rights of the employees – what about the customers? Or is that unreconstructed Toryism?

  4. I love the idea of everyone being that much more pleasant to each other. Everyone seems to be so stressed and have their priorities the wrong way round as I see it, putting money and personal gain first, forgetting manners and respect for others. For the past few years we have tried to get the neighbours on the street together for a bit of a drink at around Christmas time and people seem to welcome this. Also, an enterprising guy in our area has come up with Streetbank. A community website which gets people communicating, lending stuff or giving items away they no longer need, and generally being NICE. Where is the harm in that? And no, my nickname is not Pollyanna!

  5. I know! I mean before Election Day I did bad mouth Clegg myself. I did not even fancy him then. But now I think he looks very nice and some of his policies are quite honest and good, folk. This shows you I don’t fall for men of power easily; I’m not that shallow to be honest with you all.

    All different policies need compromise. The good ones are to be kept, bad ones to be dropped and the difficult ones need compromise. And they have:

    -Clegg has dropped his amnesty for illegal immigrants policy. Both want to cap annual immigration.

    -Cameron supports Clegg’s no income tax for under £10,000 a year earners.

    -Both want to roll back Labour’s communism influenced state intrusion. To get more police who have turned lazy under Labour on the beat. Also to reduce money making speed cameras.

    -Both want to tackle the out of control under Labour BBC empire i.e BBC top dogs’ self-decided over the top salaries, sky high fees paid to celebrities…

    Above are only some of their many compromised policies which surely make the majority of the country happy except those affected naturally.


    Have you seen those new billboards, folk? ” HONK IF YOU WANT TO SAY NO TO BBC CUTS! ”

    Oh, please! Who are they kidding?

    BBC top dog Mark Thompson’s annual salary is nearly £900,000 per year! He says it’s because he runs a big place. Yeah, he has at least 20 PAs under him alone.

    He pays celebrities sky high fees in order to dwarf his own salary. Clever!

  6. Sometimes I wish that people would be a bit more specific about the BBC, I try to be, as an entertainment and public service broadcaster, I believe it is probably unsurpassed. However when it comes to the BBC news, this is a completely different cup of meat. It is and has been since the 70’s a nasty little rats nest of marxist sympathisers, and champagne socialists. It is vastly overstaffed, and bloated with it’s own self importance. Take it out of the corporation, privatise it and make it compete for it’s space on our tv’s, ok, give them the contract for the first 2 years to give them chance to reorganise, and then it’s up for grabs, and no friendly contracts committees made up of ex BBC news personel, but a free and fair selection.
    Make them pay for their own 5 star hotels and flights not us, let’s see if Carrie Gracie still gets £92K a year for sitting behind a desk, and she is small beer compared to some of them.

  7. I wonder if there is some way of helping the elderly to learn computer skills. If they were housebound, they could chat on line. If volunteers are needed to help people learn the basics, I’d help for an afternoon. It’s really nice that Boris is thinking about this problem and how to address it. Kind.

    What is a road hump fetishist, by the way?

  8. @ circusmonkey above:

    Surely Achilles & Patroclus is more appropriate than Romeo & Juliet ;o) ?


  9. I agree with Boris, I hope critics of the coalition back off and give Cameron-Clegg the chance to make it work. I especially welcome their Freedom Bill, reversing the assaults by Labour on our civil liberties, and in particular repealing the 2006 ID Card Act. We must see to it that they persevere and succeed with this.
    I read Henry Porter’s article of recent date in the Guardian to that effect, which attracted some cynical comments like “It will never see the light of day.” these people MUST be proved wrong.
    I also hope that there is a change in the culture of the authorities, (police, bureaucrats etc) who have become very intrusive and bullying towards the public; and an end to Labour’state sponsorship of us snitching on each other

  10. Nice mawkish twaddle Boris, well done!
    “with a giddy helium-lunged feeling of hope”, Yes! I felt that hope too! I hoped that the ground would open up and swallow the tedious twosome, despite the environmental impact of having to absorb so much oil, smarm and saccharine.
    I particularly liked your Cup Final analogy, except I have a different interpretation, you may be surprised to find.
    On one side we have Chelsea, buoyed by shady dealings in the Russian energy production market, full of overpaid whingeing prima donnas, and on the other Portsmouth, a more typical example of what happens when market forces are allowed to flow unrestricted – crippling debt and peripheral small business pushed towards insolvency as a result. Tory Britain, where the rich thrive and the poor are obliterated. The system is broken, and your old friend George has no idea what to do – if he finds it all too hard, may I suggest that there is a vacancy for him in the police force in Keystone.
    What’s really happening

  11. I am not very political, but the unison inwhich I witnessed on tv last week was really something, and I think that the nation should take note of this, pick their arses up and get on board with working together.

    David and Jonathans coming together last week is a great example of what we should all be doing in the UK, putting differences aside and getting together- who ever we are, or where ever we come from, may euro-loving road-hump-fetishists and hermaphroditic parrotfish unite!

  12. Surely the victory of England’s cricketers in the World Twenty20 series illustrates the success of our inclusive Britain? Look at the sterling work of the naturalised immigrants from Africa, like KP and Keiswetter! And isn’t the achievement of Australia in just making it to the final a testament to enlightened penal reform? Hooray for the Big Society!

  13. I think it’s a great opportunity for the country to rise to the challenges of the future. The politicians have compromised on our behalf. We have got to compromise so as to put ourselves in the position of being able to repay this hideous debt, it won’t go away however much finger-pointing there is.

    But during the difficulties ahead all we’ll hear from idiot Labourites is ‘well you took the £6 billion out of the economy, if you hadn’t it would be all sunlight and roses by now’ (how can they not understand that it is not being taken out, it just isn’t being given to the taxman – oh yeah, selective understanding).

    All Conservatives should be given a copy (or have access to an internet copy they can download) of the letter left to the Treasury Chief saying there’s no money left. Then every time a Labour supporter opens their mouth to complain about the cuts we can wave it in their faces.

    It could also be used to completely destroy their credibility at every general election for decades to come!

  14. The new coalition government has discovered Labour had deliberately signed off as many contracts as possible before the general election was called. Spending as much as possible and leave nothing for the Tory. Deliberately plunging the country deeper in debt than it was first calculated by economic experts.

    Now suddenly the police forces are running outside, arms flaying and complaining that under Labour they have almost as many clerks, pen-pushers and “plastic policemen” as fully-trained officers. How clever! Complaining ( rather than keeping quiet ) before it is discovered by the new government.

    Why didn’t they complain to the Labour government then? Or they didn’t want to complain at all because they all liked the easy life Labour government gave them in return for votes at elections?

    How Labour built up an army of Labour voters:

    -Deliberately let the BBC run wild, allowing BBC top dogs do whatever they want to i.e how much they want to pay themselves etc.

    The BBC top dogs then deliberately give celebrities like J Ross extraordinary contracts in an attempt to make their own big salaries look peanut by comparison.

    The BBC top dogs then create as many unnecessary jobs as possible, employing as many extra staff as possible who will support and be loyal to the BBC top dogs in return for their employment.

    -Deliberately made new regulations after regulations in order to give the police forces an easy life i.e sitting in their station filling in forms or walking the streets stopping teenagers/ adults asking silly questions then writing down their personal details in their notebook, rather than making the police go on the beat chasing after real criminals, drugs dealers etc… In return the police would vote for Labour.

    -Deliberately create as many non-jobs, quango jobs etc… in the public sector i.e diversity managers ( £150k a year ), diversity deputy managers ( £50k a year ), community harmony officers* etc… then employ as many people as possible to do these jobs who would in return vote for Labour again and again.

    * community harmony officers me ass. we know which groups are favoured.

    Now if the new government make these people redundant or reduce their hours, they will get angry and vote against the new government in revenge.

    -Deliberately fast tracked non-EU immigrants’ citizenship applications who have lived here less than 5 years. Once being British, they can apply for their family to join them over here. These new Brits will vote for Labour again as a thank-you gesture.

    It’s a vicious circle, folks!

  15. Firstly i admit, i may of been rather….ummm… less than complimentary in my attitude toward the lib-dems. I have come to the conclusion that if Dave thinks its best for the country to enter into a coalition, then so be it. I shall continue to support the party however…
    I always say in life that i respect everyone unless they give me reason to do otherwise. I wish to continue with this line of thinking in regards to the Tory party. If i were to abandon my morals and support something i did not myself believe in i would be no better than…. LABOUR 🙂

    Social isolation is a big problem, bigger for some than others. Myself for example; having spent a good few years in care, i enjoy my own company and am glad of the peace as, if you were living with 8 additional young people all with their own problems, well you start to crave your own space (ever so slightly lol).

    However my lack of interaction is my choice. It saddens me to think of all those who would like the company but cannot find it. My aunt for example having never lived alone seems to need company and short periods during the day seem to become just as bad as say a fortnights worth of my own company. (sorry auntie just an example no offense meant). It scares me to think had i not been with my father almost everyday for a year whilst he was in hospital, that he would of been in an awful lot of trouble. Seeing him was no effort on my part as i loved him and did not need to think of it. A certain member of my family only saw him 3 times in a year and thought she was going above and beyond the call of duty, even though divorced i would of liked to of seen some support from her for me if not for my dad.

    This all ended in me having to use hospital transport to get up to guys at 4am, never mind that i had a fair few family members less than 20 mins away from me at the time.
    However hard it may of been for me to be there and see what i was seeing. It was not a time for me to consider myself. My father cared for me until he was medically unfit to and what sort of a person would i be if i did not do the same?

    The problem now is that the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ means nothing now. From my experience that is. I would quite like a mother but my idea of a mother is nothing like the reality. So i have broken family ties to keep myself from harm. Again, this is my choice. I have met some lovely people on the net a lot from this site 🙂 which is enough for me.

    I think of all those sat on their own at xmas (like myself)who have an awful time being alone. But it is not xmas and birthdays when we need people. We shouldnt need a reason to visit family friends , even the lady across the road, we should do this without thinking. Unfortunetly the family unit from a lone parent family to a much larger extended family, seems to be going out of fashion. We need to encourage people to start paying more attention to one another. I feel we could also benefit from intervention at a higher level such as government to inspire us to do so.

    In thatchers britian this was stressed greatly by good ole mrs t herself. She believed in marriage , good parenting etc. A lady with morals! Though in this day and age it seems as though the oxford english is due to take the tippex to the word. We need to (although we shouldnt have to) re educate people from school age in respect, love, loyalty and all the good qualities we are capable of but do not practice. I believe it is holland (dont quote me on this i know its round about holland somewhere lol ) that takes sex education lessons in schools to a far superior level.

    They start sex education classes from around ten years old . These however are not biology based, they teach their children about relationships, explain what it is to care or love someone. They teach the difference between this and love for parents and siblings and of course friends at the same time. So when it comes to an appropriate time to start on the physical side of things. The children have a far better understanding as to why this happens.Our mistake being we teach about sex but not about why exactly it is that humans do this. Perhaps if we adopted the same syllabus from that age then we would see a greater wealth of personality and in turn greater appreciation of our loved ones and friends at a far later time in life.

    My late partner sadly had an awful time, orphaned as a child and no family of which to speak. This led to him following a bad path. He was a Gd person although everyone seemed to turn on him (nearly everyone)so he valued his friends and would treat them as family. I would of given my life to help him and Ive no doubt he would of done the same. All of his friends were very lucky to be his friends.

    We are very selfish creatures and most of the time will only do something if it results in personal gain however, if that personal gain comes from that warm feeling you get when you help someone… then that type of selfishness isn’t a bad thing. The problem being is to help some one, like visiting your nan for an hour on a Sunday for example.. requires some amount of effort on your part, where as sitting at home on the computer (not that i do of course cough ) is no effort to you at all. Then when you are sitting there is there some invisible three headed dog stood in front of the phone preventing you from at least calling? I doubt it and if there is just throw him a marrow bone and head for the phone!

    We do not always have to be there in person to stop someone from being lonely. In ‘angels among us’ a country song it says “a kind word from a stranger to lend a helping hand, a phone call from a friend just to say they understand” is sometimes more than enough. Knowing that someone has been thinking about you and cares enough to call can be better than a whole week together.
    Then again on the other side, (i have often found this) That you can be surrounded by people all the time, talking till your jaw nearly drops off and going here there and everywhere yet…
    Its surprising……

    how you can still feel so alone.

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